For best results read in an American accent.
It was a gloomy, drizzly afternoon in a sleepy Cornish harbour village about as far from the City That Never Sleeps as you can get. I’d had an intense weekend… training a bunch of broads* to make great radio. I needed to unwind. Luckily I’d got a Wild Card invite to take a look round St Austell Brewery with Head Brewer Roger Ryman. This wasn’t just any brewer it was the guy who invented Clouded Yellow. For those not in the know it’s a vanilla-flavoured, bottled wheat beer and one of my favourite poisons. Sure he’s also the man behind the popular Tribute Ale, but when a brewery’s makin’ more than 21 million pints of a beer then I’m usually looking for something a bit more specialist.
Luckily Roger’s just the guy. Not only does the brewery turn out millions of pints of its best selling ale, it also makes niche beers for connoisseurs like me and has a two barrel microbrewery on the side for trialling new and exclusive brews.
He showed me round the joint and told me about its heart transplant. The brewing gear had been in there since the 19th Century and was starting to wear out. It was no simple job to replace it. They had to take off the roof and lift out the old so they could put in the new. It meant closing the place down for a fortnight – if it had taken any longer Roger coulda run into trouble, but by some kinda Cornish miracle it was done and dusted in time.
The shiny new brewery was impressive and cosy. But being something of a beer anorak I couldn’t wait to get into the chilly barn of a microbrewery where Roger was cookin’ up his latest experimental brews – although not as overjoyed as when he offered me the chance to taste ‘em.
They looked about as appealing as a vat of cack. Just sitting there in a couple of open fermentation vessels, but I knew that looks could be deceptive.
Roger drew off a draught of what turned out to be a raspberry porter. It was delicious. A chocolately brew with a rich raspberry flavour leading to more chocolate on the finish.
I wondered what was in the tank next to it. It looked green and nasty but Roger said it was a big IPA he’d cooked up usin’ lager yeast and citra, nugget and centennial hops.
It was a wow of a beer. A real zesty brew that took my breath away. He told me he was gonna call it Big Job. I could see why. I felt kinda down in the mouth that these were limited edition brews. They were the sort of beers you’d wanna come back for more of. Luckily a trip to the sample room was just around the corner. There were more of Roger’s beers there that I knew I needed to try. He wanted to make sure I left no stone unturned, so I worked my way through the range. It was a hard graft.
We started with an unnamed 2.8% beer, an ABV a lot of brewers seem willing to tangle with now Parliament’s dangling the carrot of lower taxes for weaker drinks. Seems the suits are totally out of touch with the folks that drink ale. When a tipple’s this tasty you don’t need to neck a dozen pints; you want to savour the flavour, but it seems those guys at the Palace think everyone’s into binge-drinking. Still the weak brew had more flavour than I was expecting. It was like caramel with biscuitty notes and apparently gets its flavour from what Roger says is a fair amount of crystal malt.
Dartmoor Best Bitter at 3.5% was still a bit weak for me, but it had the attraction of tasting like a brewery smells. Malty and alluring. Next, we tried the Trelawny a
3.8% peach of a brew. Peachy on the nose, carrying through to the taste. I’d had a pint in a pub once but it didn’t go down too well. Just goes to show you’ve got to look after your beer if it’s gonna taste how it’s meant to.
Next things got regal. Black Prince, a 4% brew, is a grainy, drinkable mild with a roasted coffee aroma and a slightly creamy chocolatey flavour. I could see myself drinking it by the fire on one of those cold Cornish afternoons.
We moved on to Roger’s baby. Tribute’s the beer he originally brewed for the solar eclipse of ’99. It used to be called Daylight Robbery. The guy likes a play on words as much as much as he likes making beer. It’s not a bad brew, but in some joints it suffers from being served too cool. Truth is it’s actually quite tasty. It looks great too – a glass of burnished gold. It’s sweetish and keeps its bitterness on a leash, but then it surprises you with a fruit salad-like fruitiness and you know if you were sittin’ out front of a bar overlooking the Atlantic on a summer’s day you wouldn’t be too heartbroken to be putting some of it away.
We crossed the Atlantic for the next brew, or at least its hops came from there. They give Proper Job, a 4.5% IPA, a citrus and pine character. I liked it. It was drier than the Tribute and more bitter too. Roger said if I liked it in cask, I’d be bowled over by the bottled version – which is stronger.
We moved on to a couple of brown beers – both of ‘em 5%. HSD strong and dark with shades of dried fruit and Admiral’s Ale – a sweetish, caramelised fruity flavour beer with a tangy, softly bitter finish.
I was starting to feel pretty relaxed. My intense weekend seemed a long time ago. Roger said there was more beer to try, but I knew it was time for me to split. But he wanted me to try them and asked if I’d take a few bottles home. I wasn’t going to say no. But that’s another story.
Sometimes when I’ve been out west I’ve got a little tired by the lack of variety when I hit a new joint, but that’s a tale I’ve told before. There’s more to St Austell Brewery than meets the eye and I’d say if you’re out this way you’d be missin’ a trick if you didn’t pay it a visit.
● For more about the brewery visit http://www.staustellbrewery.co.uk/
Tribute ale is 4.2% ABV.
*By which I mean a group of women who are: “liberal, tolerant, unconfined and not limited or narrow in scope”. (From A Feminist Dictionary 1992 edition).